Cuora galbinifrons was included in CITES Appendix II on 19 July 2000. A zero quota was imposed for C. galbinifrons effective 12 June 2013. The genus Cuora, including C. galbinifrons, is included in Annex B of European Union Commission Regulation no. 709/2010 (amending EC Regulation 338/97), which requires that a corresponding import permit must be issued by the country of import before a shipment of the species can enter the European Union. Since 10 May 2006, imports of wild specimens of C. galbinifrons from China have been subject to an EU import suspension (implemented on the basis of Article 4(6)(b) Council Regulation (EC) No 338/97). EU import suspensions have been in place for imports of wild specimens of this species from Viet Nam and Lao PDR since 26 November 2010.
In China, C. galbinifrons is included in the list of National Protected Terrestrial Wild Animals that are Beneficial, or with Important Economic and Scientific Research Value, which was published by the State Forestry Administration in 2000; these listed species form part of the People’s Republic of China Wild Animals Protection Law (1989). The species is the highest priority protected species and occurs in most protected areas on Hainan (Wang et al. 2011).
Cuora galbinifrons is listed under Prohibited Category I of the Wildlife and Aquatic Species Law (No07/NA 24 December 2007) in Lao PDR, the highest protective category, banning hunting and collection year-round.
In Viet Nam, C. galbinifrons is protected from commercial exploitation as a Priority Protected Rare, Precious and Endangered Species under Decree 160/2013/ND-CP of the Government.
Habitat conservation, in the form of National Parks, Special Conservation Areas, and other protected areas, is in place across much of the range of C. galbinifrons, and several records of these turtles originate from inside protected areas (Stuart and Platt 2004, McCormack et al. 2006). However, designation as a protected area does not necessarily lead to effective restrictions on the collection of turtles and other ‘forest products’, and is insufficient by itself to safeguard viable populations of the species in its natural habitat.
Range-wide improved enforcement of existing laws and regulations to combat illegal collection and trade of this species, accompanied by local community awareness, engagement and alternative livelihoods provisions, are desperately needed if Cuora galbinifrons is to survive in the wild.
Cuora galbinifrons is confirmed to occur in Hainan and Guangxi in PR China, in northeastern Lao PDR, and in northern Viet Nam at least as far south as Nghe An province (Iverson 1992, de Bruin and Artner 1999, Stuart et al. 2002, Stuart and Parham 2004, Stuart and Platt 2004, Fritz and Havas 2007, Shi et al. 2008a, Wang et al. 2011, Blanck 2013, Som and Cottet 2016).
In Hainan it occurs at least above 350 m above sea level (Wang Lijun pers. comm. 2018). Shi et al. (2012) reported occurrences at 700–1800 m elevation.
China, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Viet Nam
Wang et al. (2011) calculated a population density of 0.7862 Cuora galbinifrons per km2 in a small area at Diaoluoshan Nature Reserve in Hainan, based on surveying six sampling areas with 424 baited traps over 6,360 trap-days. Elsewhere for C. galbinifrons, only anecdotal relative population density data are available. All recent indications are that the species requires extensive search effort to encounter. During field surveys in Lao PDR in 1993–1999, encounter rates were at the order of one turtle per three months in the field for a herpetologist, and one C. galbinifrons per day when working with a trained turtle hunting dog in prime turtle habitat (Stuart and Timmins 2000). A great deal of survey work has been undertaken in Viet Nam between 2009–2012 focused on determining the range and priority habitat for C. galbinifrons. Anecdotal information from interviews throughout the range inferred that historic quantities of the species available for collection in the forest have been greatly reduced, with many hunters stating that while the species was common 7–15 years ago, it is now increasingly difficult to find. Corresponding increases in wholesale prices paid have been documented during interviews throughout the species range in Viet Nam (McCormack, unpubl. data). Whereas C. galbinifrons was observed in substantial quantities in illegal trade shipments in the 1990s and early 2000s, only sporadic animals are observed in recent years, even though hunter interviews indicate that collection effort has not decreased, but the encounter rate has dropped precipitously. The conclusion that remaining populations have declined steeply in the past three generations (estimated over 90%) is reasonable.
The primary threat to Cuora galbinifrons has been collection for trade. The species continues to be in high demand in the international pet trade and the food trade. Collection efforts include both targeted searches for turtles involving trained dogs, or occasionally pitfall traps, as well as capitalising on casual turtle encounters when collecting other forest products. Turtles, of any species, are collected whenever and wherever encountered in the region, regardless of legal protection status or location inside protected areas. Collected turtles are traded, mostly illegally, through a network of local middlemen before being exported or consumed locally. Increasing economic value has ensured that hunting pressure is sustained despite the increasing rarity of the species (Hendrie 2000, Stuart and Timmins 2000, McCormack et al. 2010). Habitat loss and degradation are considered a significant but more localised threat to the species (Stuart and Timmins 2000, Hendrie 2000). In China, most of the species range is in protected areas, so habitat loss is not considered a major threat.
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Roland Wirth (category and featured image)